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By Ryan C. Crocker

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There were high expectations after President Obama and Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, talked on the phone in late September. Those hoping for a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear standoff were excited that a breakthrough was imminent; meanwhile, some American allies, like Israel and Saudi Arabia, expressed deep skepticism over a potential American rapprochement with Iran.

No breakthrough was achieved when American and Iranian officials met for negotiations last month, but few observers expected one. Later this week, another round of talks is scheduled to begin in Geneva.

The window for achieving a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis is not open-ended. Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani face domestic pressures — from skeptical members of Congress in Washington and anti-American hard-liners in Tehran.

Nevertheless, despite three decades of frosty relations and although most Americans may be unaware of it, talks with Iran have succeeded in the past — and they can succeed again.

Immediately after 9/11, while serving in the State Department, I sat down with Iranian diplomats to discuss next steps in Afghanistan. Back then, we had a common enemy, the Taliban and its Al Qaeda associates, and both governments thought it was worth exploring whether we could cooperate.

The Iranians were constructive, pragmatic and focused, at one point they even produced an extremely valuable map showing the Taliban’s order of battle just before American military action began.

They were also strong proponents of taking action in Afghanistan. We met through the remaining months of 2001 in different locations, and Iranian-American agreement at the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan was central to establishing the Afghan Interim Authority, headed by Hamid Karzai, now the president of Afghanistan.

I continued to hold talks with the Iranians in Kabul when I was sent to reopen the United States Embassy there. We forged agreements on various security issues and coordinated approaches to reconstruction. And then, suddenly, it all came to an end when President George W. Bush gave his famous “Axis of Evil” speech in early 2002. The Iranian leadership concluded that in spite of their cooperation with the American war effort, the United States remained implacably hostile to the Islamic Republic.

Real cooperation effectively ceased after the speech and the costs were immediate. At the time, we were in the process of negotiating the transfer of the notorious Afghan warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, from Iranian house arrest to Afghan custody and ultimately to American control. Instead, the Iranians facilitated his covert entry into Afghanistan where he remains at large, launching attacks on coalition and Afghan targets. Read more…

Ryan C. Crocker, a former United States ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, is dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A & M.

As published in www.nytimes.com on November 3, 2013 (a version of this op-ed appears in print on November 4, 2013, on page A25 of the New York edition with the headline: Talk to Iran, It Works).

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By Ryan C. Crocker There were high expectations after President Obama and Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, talked on the phone in late September….

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